tv MSNBC News Live MSNBC January 7, 2010 4:00pm-5:00pm EST
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northwest airlines jet on christmas day. we are anticipating that the president's going to release some new information about the narrative, including information that government authorities had essentially decided to try and ask abdulmutallab some questions when he landed in detroit, because his name was essentially on a terror watch list. and that essentially rang a few bells while the plane was in flight. in addition, we expect the president's going to announce some new recommendations, some new steps that the obama administration is taking including expanding the terror watch list. with us now, nbc mike vicar a is at the white house, and jim miklaszewski is at the pentagon. mike, let's start with you. the latest information as far as what we're expecting in that report today. >> reporter: as you point out, the president's been delayed. we were supposed to see him earlier in the afternoon, we will see him now at 4:30. when it was found that that man from nigeria tried to blow up the plane in the skies over
detroit, since then he's been talking about human and systemic failures, saying this was a screwup. the question is, these dots that were failed to be connected, what were the dots, and who failed to connect them. many of the agencies under scrutiny now, including the director of national intelligence, the tsa, the nctc, the national counterterrorism center, this place that was supposed to be sort of a clearinghouse where all of this information was to flow, and those dotsz were to be connected. the visa status of this individual. the fact that his father had come into the nigerian embassy and spoke with an american official there about concerns about his son. frag men tear information from yemen over the summer picked up by america's intelligence agencies. why wasn't this all put together. we're expected to hear two things. first of all, the recommendations that the president will make in all of these failures. from white house officials and outside the white house. as well as the specific
intelligence failures that led to that incident on christmas day, david. >> and now jim miklaszewski who has been talking to a lot of counterterrorism officials. jim, the president made it very clear two days ago this was not a matter of not getting the intelligence, they have the intelligence, they just didn't analyze it properly. what has been the reaction in the intelligence community and do officials that you've been talking about acknowledge there are problems still? >> reporter: that's long been one of the huge problems in the intelligence community. they have the technology to collect all this information. but they never had the precise technology, or even the manpower to analyze all of it in an expeditious factor. they get almost all of what they need, but occasionally there are things that slip through the cracks, such as the name abdulmutallab. the most intriguing fact that's emerged over the past couple of days, and we've talked about that earlier today, david, is
the fact that the authorities on the ground, counterterrorism officials on the ground in the united states were alerted to the name abdulmutallab on that flight manifest and they were going to question him when he landed at detroit. well, if his name was there, and it alerted them to the point that they were going to actually drag him aside and question him, why in fact was he then permitted to get on the plane in the first place. it was said he wasn't on the no-fly list. then why would those authorities want to question him when he landed in the u.s. it will be interesting to hear what the president has to say about that today. >> and jim, that very point suggests that there's an issue as far as, yes, trying to track people in the united states. they want to ask them questions when they meet with customs agents and whatnot once they land. it was almost as if they thought, well, that might be the problem, not that he might actually try to be a problem while he's trying to get here. >> reporter: that's right. one of the questions that intel people are asking is, if they
thought that -- if he was a person of concern, wouldn't they think there should be some concern while he was flying, and perhaps that plane should have been turned around? and then there's the question, too, on why he was permitted to get on the plane when he paid cash for the ticket, when he had no checked luggage to go all the way to detroit, and then apparently back again in the middle of winter as some people have pointed out. he didn't have any winter clothes with him. those are the kinds of things -- and you've probably run into this yourself, david, in our business, when we make last-mist arrangements to get on an airplane, we are often dragged aside and gone through -- and put through the additional screening process. and people at the tsa have told me, it's in fact because you made those reservations, or changed your itinerary at the very last minute. and that is supposed to alert authorities to a potential problem there. and it didn't in this case, as
we know. >> jim miklaszewski, and mike, thank you both. david, we're going to bring in our panel right now to further the discussion. former cia special agent jack rice, and nbc's terrorism analyst michael sheehan, a former deputy commissioner for counterterrorism for the new york police department, and mark whitaker. mark, i'll begin with you, as we await the president who is set to speak in 25 minutes or so, if he's on time. let's talk about what he has ahead of him. what do you expect from this speech? we had a very thinly veiled of anger the last time he spoke. do you expect that again? and the extent to which this president will be able to keep this on the front burner, giving everything else he has on his plate already? >> well, what we're hearing from the white house is that the president is determined to be more transparent about this incident and what went wrong than you would have ever seen under the bush administration. on the other hand, with transparency, also becomes --
comes demands for accountability. so i think he will lay out in detail what went wrong. he will talk about steps that they're doing to correct this. but the question is, is it going to be enough to satisfy in a way, the worst details are, the more we're going to hear cries for somebody to be fired u somebody to resign. michael lightner head of the national counterterrorism center, who was supposed to be coordinating all this information, did not come back from his ski vacation during the trip. i think there's a lot of focus on him right now. there's also the fundamental question of whether the whole reform of the intelligence system that was put into place after 9/11, this creation of a director of national intelligence and so forth, whether that works and whether that has to be revisited. >> but the issue of complacency, mark, that sets in as we -- we will talk about this ad nauseam for a few days and then something will come along and take its place. as long as there are no terror
related incidents, this will revert to the back burner in terms of our discussion and focus. how does this president keep this on the front burner in the white house? >> for the challenge of the government and for the professionals is how to institutionalize the changes. so, yes, we in the media are -- our attention, we focus on this for a while and then we move on. but there are thousands of intelligence professionals, and homeland security professionals. and it's their job to stay on this 24/7. the real question, are they set up in the right way, and is the communication flow there working. also, i think there's the whole question of, do we need to go to a higher level, to different kinds of practices, in terms of screening, and so forth, that anybody who flies has to get -- >> there's grumbling there by people, though. >> the customs department had -- once abdulmutallab was in the
air, actually saw his name, connected it with this broad data base of over 500,000 names, and was ready to question him, when he landed. but right now, under the current system, they can only do that, once they see the manifest of all the passengers on the plane. which is only available after they shut the doors of the plane, after everybody's on the plane. so is there something we can do to change that. >> on that very point, michael sheehan, if one of the things we're already hearing president obama is going to announce today, that they will expand that watch list that mark talked about, so you expand the number of people that you're worried about once the plane is in the air, how does that necessarily help you if their aim of any one of them is to blow up that plane? >> that's right. when they expand the list they will get them before they get on the plane. that's what's going to happen. this is already happening since christmas day. they've already been thousands of people moved up from the list that mark mentioned already onto the no-fly list.
you talk about complacency, alex, right now the intelligence community is forcing the system to drag people who might have been laying below the surface there, up into the spotlight. and they're going to be under a lot more scrutiny, whether it be in an airport and other places that will be opening up investigations on people. looking at people both domestically and internationally. people are going to be energized. >> david, let's bring in jack rice right now, former special agent with the cia. jack, how is the mentality, the very clandestine, play things close to the vest, how has that truly changed in the last 8 1/2 years post-9/11? is there a true sense of sharing all the information? i mean, is that where some of the letdown is that we're not getting all the information out to all the parties that are necessary to have it? >> without question. that's what we're seeing right now. have there been limitations? yes. but the problem still exists. we go back after 9/11, and everybody in the country knows this. the failure wasn't in the
acquisition of intelligence, it was in the analysis of that same intelligence. and then with everything that has happened over the last eight years, what we find now is it wasn't with the acquisition, it was with the analysis. it's the same problem. and what the cia has to do, along with the tsa, everybody has to bring all this together. but what is so frustrating, i think, and the president will certainly reflect this in his speech today, is that the american people have been waiting and we're supposed to see this massive shift, this massive change. and yet here we are again having the same conversation that you and i could have had in 2002. >> and we did. >> especially given that the details of this seem so similar to richard reid, which happened just a few months after 9/11. but in any case, we're going to ask our panel to stick around. cia special agent jack rice, and terrorism analyst michael sheehan, and mike whitaker. we're waiting for president obama to speak, presumably at
4:30 eastern time. we're about 20 minutes, again, the president will detail his findings that he just asked for a couple of days ago. the latest narrative that is declassified about how abdulmutallab was able to get on that flight to detroit. and the president expected to go through in some detail all the warning signs. we also anticipate the president will detail some of what his administration plans to do about correlating some of the information within these agencies. lock lid. hear that? seals it tight. smells like fresh ground. fresh fresh fresh fre-- that's our favorite part. ...fresh! (announcer) taste why maxwell house is good to the last drop. i just want fewer pills and relief that lasts all day. take 2 extra strength tylenol every 4 to 6 hours?!? taking 8 pills a day... and if i take it for 10 days -- that's 80 pills. just 2 aleve can last all day.
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the president is expected to take that podium in 15 minutes from now. when he gets there, we'll take you there immediately, live. but right now, david's going to continue our discussion from washington. >> yeah, alex, as we wait for the president to come out and discuss this report that he's asked for a couple days ago regarding what happened on december 25th, and the days leading up to it, joining us, newweek magazine investigative reporter, and jeffrey at st. mary's university in san antonio, texas. mike, let's start with you. you've done an extensive amount of reporting, the warning flags and signs essentially collected but not shared. what stands out in your mind based on everything that you've reported so far? >> the biggest single question that i think people have pinpointed is, why, after the initial report came in from the u.s. embassy, from the cia in nigeria, about the concerns of the suspect's father, that his son was in yemen with radical
extremists, nobody at the national counterterrorism center, or anyone else, checked his visa status. the fact that he had a multi-entry visa that allowed him to enter the united states at any time. it seems like a basic first check, that you would see. is this a guy that could come into the country. at least to the nctc, that was not done. when other pieces of information were out there, and also word check, the fact that there was intelligence that al qaeda in yemen might be planning an attack over the holidays, using a nigerian suspect, it wasn't put together with the report from the embassy in nigeria, and the fact elsewhere in the government that he had a multi-entry visa to enter the united states at any time. >> jeffrey, what do you make of it? >> yeah, well, my -- i look at a little bigger picture.
i think the tone is really at issue here. the obama administration set the tone that this is not a war. that these are overseas contingency operations that we need to somehow embrace or negotiate or compromise with the al qaeda extremists. and if the president is pointing fingers, he needs to pintf point them at himself also, because the tone he set has had a chilling effect across the entire intelligence community. >> but how so? specifically, how so? how has it had a chilling effect? >> you look at the cia. the investigations that mr. holder is doing right now against the enhanced interrogation techniques, many people are afraid if i connect the dots or overreach, i could be in trouble and be investigated -- >> no, no, only if they torture. let's be fair here. there's a chilling technique to keep them from torturing and using waterboarding. that's what eric holder is investigating at the cia. you said that the obama administration, this has had a chilling effect on the gathering of intelligence.
other than keeping them from torture, what specifically are you accusing them of? >> i'm accusing him of not being a commander in chief. we are at war. the president has never emphasized the fact that well are at war. >> yes, he has. he did it a few days ago, did it in his speech at west point, in his inauguration. go back and talk to him talking about the war and terrorists over and over. what is the political gain, jeffrey, that you -- >> the war in afghanistan. he's talking about the war in afghanistan. why are we giving this body bomber the rights in federal court? he should go to military commission. >> all right. and where were you complaining when richard reid went through civilian court and tried and convicted? where were you with the blind shaikh who was responsible for trying to attack the twin towers in '93? they're following the same policy and it hasn't changed yet. >> the war started in 2001. shaikh was 1993. since 2001, president bush made
a mistake of not bringing reid and mu sawy to a military commission, absolutely. by sending five of these enemy combatants to new york city, treating this body bomber as a civilian -- >> but jeffrey, there are already 240 terrorists who are sitting in u.s. prisons now because they were tried and convicted in u.s. courts. but in any case, explain what you see of al qaeda here, what's going on here in terms of the -- let's bring michael in. mike, go ahead. >> all right. clearly, this has been an issue that republicans and conservatives are trying to hit the administration on. it is worth putting to keep in perspective that there are only two people arrested in the united states who the bush administration went, declared enemy combatants. padilla in 2002 and almari in
june of 2003. and since then, june of 2003, the bush administration and obama administration, have never gone the route of enemy combatants. there have been several terrorism suspects arrested and prosecuted in the u.s. courts, and not once during the last five years of the bush administration did the subject even come up. it was never even raised. nobody pressed it. to go the enemy combatant route. it is a bit disingenuous at this point for critics to make a big issue of why it wasn't done in this instance when it hadn't been done really for the last six years. >> but not al qaeda. the 2006 military commission only qualified al qaeda. not individuals that are infected with the jihad virus. it has to be al qaeda membership to qualify as an enemy combatant. you know that. it has to be al qaeda to qualify. >> we're going to give michael the last word. jeffrey, you've made your point. mike, take this away. >> plenty of people have been
charged with providing material support to al qaeda in the u.s. courts by the justice department. under the bush administration, and under the obama administration. the enemy combatants have never come up. >> jeffrey, you can try to interrupt him, but again, it won't change the basic facts. thank you both so much. we appreciate it. we're waiting for president obama at the state dining room in the white house to come out and talk about this terror report that he asked for, again, detailing the mistakes that our government made as far as warning signs and the red flags that were not put together involving the case of abdulmutallab. again, the president asked for this report, is expected to offer some details and talk about what the government is going to do next to try and fix the obvious mistakes. you're watching "the big picture" on msnbc. or just one brita filter. ( drop plinks ) brita-- better for the environment
if things went according to schedule, the president will be behind that podium here in about five minutes at the white house state dining room, david. >> of course, the president's expected to offer some details. a new narrative, according to officials as far as what happened with abdulmutallab, and the deficiencies as far as sharing information that was collected about him before he got on that christmas day flight to detroit. we'll have the details of the report that the president is releasing later this afternoon. we expect the president to talk in the next five or ten minutes. and freedom of the outdoors for your indoor cat. specially formulated to promote hairball control... and healthy weight. friskies indoor wet cat food. feed the senses. only alka-seltzer relieves your upset stomach, heartburn, indigestion and headache... so you're good to go in the morning. you're late. alka-seltzer brings you back. like i couldn't catch my breath.
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as we wait for the president to speak at any moment, welcome back to all of you, and you, david. >> alex, in "the big picture," this hour we're waiting for president obama to talk about the latest government report he asked for, detailing what our government knew about abdulmutallab and the warning signs that were missed, and not put together leading up to december the 25th, the day that he got on that flight to
detroit. you're looking at a live picture of the state dining room. the president will have prepared remarks as you can see from the teleprompters that are set up. he will apparently not be taking questions. he'll speak anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes. jack rice is here, former cia agent, and nora, and mark whitaker. and michael sheehan. jack, i want to start with you, because one of the political points, and we saw it in the previous segment, that somehow by charging people in civilian court, that that keeps us from getting valuable intelligence. what do you make of the argument is this. >> i've heard this before, sadly from the likes of jim demint and others as well. what's unfortunate about it, it's not logical. the ultimate conclusion is because the president is weak on terrorism, he somehow hates america. therefore you sort of take this weird sort of backward jaunt. that's what i've been saying in the past. frankly, let's take a look at
where we are right now. the president has been very clear on his aggressiveness when it comes to terrorism and fighting wars. he's got more people on the ground in afghanistan and iraq than president bush ever did. the problem that we have right now is that it wasn't about acquisition of information. it was about analysis. and that is a failure that the cia has had for, flangely, five, six, seven-plus years. that has nothing to do with bush or obama. this is just a systemic failure. the president was absolutely right when he talked about it that way. >> mark whitaker, what is the political play, the political argument, or what are republicans and conservatives hoping to accomplish by painting this picture? some of them have said, look, this is just politics. what is the advantage of doing this? >> they talk about lawyers where they don't have the facts on their side, they argue the law. and when they don't have the law, they argue the facts. the president has admitted the government screwed up.
and rather than focusing on the factual record here, which doesn't look very good, you still have a lot of these talking heads out there, conservative talking heads who are really arguing this larger issue of the president doesn't really consider this a war. there's clearly -- clearly he does. he's talked about the war on terror as a war. but i think right now on both sides of the political spectrum and we in the media have to be focused on what needs to be done to fix this system and not just trying to revisit the past and sins of previous administrations. >> and michael sheehan, as far as trying to fix some of the systemic problems, what would you want to find out either from president obama or from this report they're going to be issuing later this afternoon that would satisfy you that some key issues are being addressed? >> right. well, i think, david, that they're going to talk about the breakdown in the analytical process here. the information was there, but they didn't react to it properly. they'll have to make sure the
analysts are sensitized to key things like movement back and forth from yemen, e-mails to people in yemen, different types of activity on websites, different types of associations with people. we're going to have to lower the bar of identity of people that are problematic, at the analytical level. this was a break down of analysis. the collection worked in this case. >> we saw the president's personal assistant putting the raurks down there, and another presidential assistance essentially giving a two-minute warning. >> so on the heels of that, let's bring in quickly nbc's savannah guthrie. the president has been -- do you know where he's been as we've had this 90-minute delay from the regular scheduling at 3:00 p.m. for this statement? >> reporter: well, as i understand it, they've been putting the finishing touches on both the report and the remarks. and look, when it comes to a report like this, it's such sensitive information, an official tells me it's really about figuring out what can be
declassified and what can't be. the intention here is to have a specific a report as possible, as specific an accounting of what went wrong where. but the tension here, is, if you reveal everything that went wrong with the protocols in these various scenarios, you will reveal the protocols themselves. so that's the issue. what you want to declassify. we are told, though, that the president is ready now and seeing reggie love there at the podium is the universal sign that the president is not far off so i think we'll see him soon. >> you mentioned the word tension. can you speak to the tension palpable or otherwise within the white house now in the wake of this event on christmas day? >> reporter: there's no question about it. this has, of course, ratcheted the issue of terrorism up by a magnitude of many. of course, that's always true behind the scenes of the but certainly in this public way. they're very sensitive to it. of course, they're aware of the criticism that the president had somehow been slow to respond
publicly to this issue. so they want to show the president's very much on top of these things. and he wants to hold each agency accountable by saying where they failed. and as a senior adviser has said, this will be a shocker, at least to a lay audience that hasn't been following every single detail, when they see laid out in one report how the intelligence system failed. not just human error, although there was human error. i think we'll hear about that. but also the system's failure. layers of failure. not just one issue, but several. so it's going to be a real eye opener. >> savannah guthrie at the white house. thank you. i want to bring in -- we'll ask you this on the other side. >> good afternoon, everybody. in the immediate reviews that i ordered after the fail christmas terrorist attacks are now complete. i was just briefed on the findings and recommendations for reform and i think it's important that the american people understand the new steps we're taking to prevent attacks and keep our country safe.
this afternoon my counterterrorism and homeland security adviser john brennan will discuss his review into our terrorist watch list system. how our government failed to connect the dots in a way that would have prevented a known terrorist from boarding a plane for america. and the steps we're going to take to prevent that from happening again. secretary of homeland security janet napolitano will discuss her review of aviation screening, technology and procedures. how that terrorist boarded a plane with explosives that could have killed nearly 300 innocent people and how we'll strengthen aviation security going forward. so today i just want to briefly summarize their conclusions and the steps i've ordered to address them. in our ever-changing world, america's first line of defense is timely, accurate intelligence that is shared, integrated, analyzed, and acted upon quickly and effectively. that's what the intelligence reforms after the 9/11 attacks
largely achieved. that's what our intelligence community does every day. but unfortunately that's not what happened in the lead up to christmas day. it's now clear that shortcomings occurred in three broad and compounding ways. first, although our intelligence community had learned a great deal about the al qaeda affiliate in yemen, called al qaeda in the arabian peninsula, that we knew that they sought to strike the united states, and that they were recruiting operatives to do so. the intelligence community did not aggressively follow up on and prioritize particular streams of intelligence related to a possible attack against the homeland. second, this contributed to a larger failure of analysis. a failure to connect the dots of intelligence that existed across our intelligence community, and which together could have revealed that abdulmutallab was planning an attack. third, this in turn fed into
shortcomings in the watch listing system which resulted in this person not being placed on the no-fly list. thereby allowing him to board that plane in amsterdam for detroit. in sum, the u.s. government had the information scattered throughout the system to potentially uncover this plot and disrupt the attack. rather than a failure to collect or share intelligence, this was a failure to connect and understand the intelligence that we already had. now, that's why we took swift action in the immediate days following christmas, including reviewing and updating the terrorist watch list system and adding more individuals to the no-fly list. and directing our embassies and consulates to include current visa information in their warnings of individuals with terrorists or suspected terrorist ties. today i'm directing a series of additional corrective steps across multiple agencies.
broadly speaking, they fall into four areas. first, i'm directing that our intelligence community immediately begin assigning specific responsibility for investigating all leads on high-priority threats, so that these leads are pursued and acted on aggressively, not just most of the time, but all of the time. we must follow the leads that we get. and we must pursue them until plots are disrupted. and that means assigning clear lines of responsibility. second, i'm directing that intelligence reports, especially those involving potential threats to the united states, be distributed more rapidly and more widely. we can't sit on information that can protect the american people. third, i'm directing that we strengthen the analytical process, how our analysts process and integrate the intelligence that they receive. my director of national intelligence, denny blair, will take the lead in improving our
day-to-day efforts. my intelligence advisory board will examine the longer-term challenge of sifting through vast intelligence and data through the information age. finally, i'm ordering an immediate effort to strengthen the criteria to add terrorists to our watch list, especially the no-fly list. we must do better in keeping dangerous people off airplanes, while still facilitating air travel. taken together, these reforms will improve the intelligence community's ability to collect, share, integrate and act on intelligence swiftly and effectively. in short, they will help our intelligence community do its job even better and protect american lives. but even the best intelligence can't identify in advance every individual who would do us harm. so we need the security at our airports, ports and borders, and for our partnerships with other nations, to prevent terrorists from entering america.
at the amsterdam airport, abdulmutallab was subject to the same screening as other passengers. he was required to show his documents, including a valid u.s. visa. his carry-on bag was x-rayed. he passed through a metal detector. but a metal detector can't detect the kinds of explosives that were sewn into his clothes. as secretary janet napolitano napolitano will explain that these are used at the amsterdam airport but not at the specific checkpoints that he passed through. indeed, most airports in the world and in the united states do not have these technologies. there is no silver bullet to securing the thousands of flights into america each day, domestic and international. they will require significant investments in many areas. and that's why even before the christmas attack we increased investments in homeland security and aviation security. this includes an additional $1 billion in new systems and
technologies that we need to protect our airports. more baggage screening, more passenger screening, and more advanced explosive detection capabilities, including those that can improve our ability to detect the kind of explosive used on christmas. these are major investments, and they'll make our skies safer, and more secure. as i announced this week, we've taken a whole range of steps to improve aviation screening and security since christmas, including new rules for how we handle visas within the government and enhance screenings for passengers flying from or through certain countries. today i'm directing that the homeland security take additional steps including strengthening our international partnerships to improve screening around the world, greater use of the advanced explosive investment technologies that we already have, including imaging technology, and working aggressively in cooperation with the department of energy in our national labs to develop and deploy the next generation of screening technologies.
now, there is, of course, no foolproof solution. as we develop new screening technologies and procedures, our adversaries will seek new ways to evade them. as was shown by the christmas attack. in the never-ending race to protect our country, we have to stay one step ahead of a nimble adversary. that's what these steps are designed to do. and we will continue to work with congress to ensure that our intelligence, homeland security and law enforcement communities have the resources they need to keep the american people safe. i ordered these two immediate reviews so that we could take immediate action to secure our country. but in the weeks and months ahead, we will continue a sustained and intensive effort in analysis and assessment so we leave no stone unturned in seeking ways to protect the american people. i have repeatedly made it clear in public with the american people, and in private with my national security team, that i will hold my staff, our
agencies, and the people in them accountable when they fail to perform their responsibilities at the highest levels. now, this stage in the review process, it appears that this incident was not the fault of a single individual or organization, but rather a systemic failure across organizations and agencies. that's why in addition to the corrective efforts that i've ordered, i've directed agency heads to establish internal accountability reviews and directed my national security staff to monitor their efforts. we will measure progress. and john brennan will report back to me within 30 days and on a regular basis after that. all of these agencies, and their leaders, are responsible for implementing these reforms. and all will be held accountable if they don't. moreover, i am less interested in passing out blame than i am in learning from and correcting these mistakes to make us safer.
for ultimately the buck stops with me. as president, i have a solemn responsibility to protect our nation and our people. and when the system fails, it is my responsibility. over the past two weeks, we've been reminded again of the challenge we face in protecting our country, against a foe that is bent on our destruction. and while passions and politics can often obscure the hard work before us, let's be clear about what this moment demands. we are at war. we are at war against al qaeda. a far-reaching network of violence and hatred that attacked us on 9/11, that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people, and that is plotting to strike us again. and we will do whatever it takes to defeat them. and we've made progress. al qaeda's leadership has hunkered down. we have worked closely with partners, including yemen, to inflict major blows against al qaeda leaders. and we have disrupted plots at home and abroad and saved american lives. and we know that the vast majority of muslims reject al
qaeda. but it is clear that al qaeda increasingly seeks to recruit individuals without known terrorist affiliations, not just in the middle east, but in africa, and other places, to do their bidding. that's why i've directed my national security team to develop a strategy that addresses the unique challenges posed by lone recruits. and that's why we must communicate clearly to muslims around the world, that al qaeda offers nothing xepts a bankrupt vision of misery and death, including the murder of fellow muslims. while the united states stands with those who seek justice and progress. to advance that progress, we've sought new beginnings, with muslim communities around the world. one in which we engage on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect to fulfill all the aspirations that all people share to get an education, to work with dignity, to live in peace and security. that's what america believes in. that's the vision that is far more powerful than the hatred of
these violent extremists. here at home, we will strengthen our defenses, but we will not succumb to a siege mentality that sacrifices the open society and liberties that we enjoy in america. so long as i am president, we will never hand them that victory. we will define the character of our country. not some band of small men intent on killing innocent men, women and children. and in this cause, every one of us, every american, every elected official can do our part. instead of giving in to cynicism and division, let's move forward with the confidence and optimism and unity that defines us as a people. for now is not a time for partnership, it's a time for citizenship, a time to come together and work to the, with the seriousness of purpose that our national security demands. that's what it means to be strong in the face of violent
extremism. that's how we will prevail in this fight. and that's how we will protect our country and pass it safer and stronger to the next generation. thanks very much. >> a firm president obama in the state dining room giving remarks that were both political, but also policy. perhaps the most interesting, the politics at the end, where the president said we will not succumb to a siege mentality, great nations don't hide as long as i'm the president, we will not hand terrorists that victory. that seemed to be a shot perhaps at the bush administration. the president also made some remarks that seemed directed straight at conservatives. the president said we are at war. we are at war against al qaeda. the president also took responsibility for the mistakes, the government mistakes that may have contributed to this abdulmutallab being allowed on that aircraft that was bound for detroit. the president said the buck stops with me, when the system fails it is my responsibility. as far as the policy, the president outlined three
different ways in which he said intelligence fell short, as far as information learned about al qaeda in yemen. there was also a failure of analysis the president said. he also said there were shortcomings in the watch list and detailed some of the steps that the government's going to be taking, including assigning more direct responsibility in terms of following up on intelligence leads and making sure that intelligence reports are distributed more rapidly and broadly within the government, and doing things like strengthening the analytical process. let's start with washington bureau chief mark whitaker. mark? >> david, i was struck by a line at the end of the remarks where he talked about the unique challenges of a lone recruit. and when you look at the attempted airplane bombing on christmas, some of the recent terror attacks, the attack in afghanistan by the jordanian doctor who was a double agent, we're seeing that actually the way this is happening around the world now is that al qaeda and
other terrorist units are looking for unlikely recruits. they're looking for soft spots, airports and routes where there's likely to be less security. so this is really not -- this is a war, but it's not a war that's a matter just of adding more data bases, putting more names out there, just spreading a wider net. it's about getting smarter and getting one step ahead of the terrorists in terms of how they're trying to find the new loopholes in our system. and i think if that's the real lesson to be learned, and we'll see whether in this review, and the new processes he's putting in place, whether we get better at that. >> jack rice, one of the lines that stood out which suggested to me that there were some internal problems, the president said the intelligence agencies will begin assigning responsibility on all leads. the implication being that somebody knew about this information but for whatever reason dropped responsibility. is that what you took out of it? >> absolutely. there's a couple of things here
i think people have to think about. there's the cia side, and then the director of national intelligence. and the national counterterrorism center right now. if you look at those together, what we now realize is that between them there was something that was dropped. this was supposed to be established to ensure it wouldn't be. but now sadly, it has been. now everybody is wondering, where do you go next. the president is going to focus on this area significantly, because i think this is the place that something was done poorly, if not at all. >> norah, your reaction? >> well, i think he outlined two different things. one is the failure -- not a failure he said to collect, it was a failure to connect the dots. which we knew that. he's taken these three steps, sort of laid out why it wasn't on the top of their list, yemen. two, that this contributed to a large failure of analysis. and three, that it led to this shortcoming in these watch list systems. they're going to tighten the system, as he said, on these
watch lists and it looks like they're going to scrub the system. he put everybody on notice, i think, not just one individual, this was not a people failure, this was a systemic problem. but i will hold people accountable. and based on what we've heard from the administration officials, when he gathered these people together in the situation room earlier, he gave his top officials a pretty good dressing-down, that this will not stand, this is not acceptable. if that's not carried out in the future, heads will roll. and then finally, there was a pretty strong statement at the end there, which you talked about as well, where the president said, this is not a time for partisanship. this is a time for citizenship. and this baloney, essentially, he said, about this finger-pointing and saying we're not at war is not appropriate when the enemy is who it is and is trying to kill americans. i think that was a very strong message. i think it was implicitly a very strong pushback to the former vice president, dick cheney, who has been the most vociferous critic of this president. >> david, right now let's come to new york where i'm joined by
nbc news "nightly news" anchor, brian williams, who just came off the set as well, having just done his own special report on nbc. the tenor of this president's remarks, very, very strong. and he left no wiggle room at all for what he plans to do down the road. >> that's right. as i said to andrea mitchell on the air, what a sea change in terms of what a president is willing to discuss in this still new administration, after all. the machinery of national security, talking about just how close we came. that's now very apparent, that he was in fact shocked by what he learned. and i found it so interesting toward the end, he said, let's view this as something we can come together on, being strong in the face of this challenge. tonight, on our broadcast on "nightly news," we're going to show this imaging that is so controversial. we're going to show why privacy advocates and a lot of people have a real problem with this.
but this technology has to come together with all kinds. because if this is the way people are going to hide explosives, you heard it in the president's voice today, $1 billion will be a drop in the bucket. >> the president clearly saying this is the technology we're going to bring in. so privacy advocates are going to have an uphill battle. >> he talked about imaging. he also said, by the way, as soon as we figure it out, the terrorists' perverse kind of job is to go around it and figure out a way out. and it's going to take everybody. i mean, everybody. >> yeah. how partisan do you think the tone of this discussion was? the president made a very clear point of saying we must all come together, and yet politics is politics. >> politics is politics, washington is washington. it takes about ten minutes for the dust to settle these days after the president speaks. the reaction starts coming in. individuals in the other party always judge, well, what's the -- am i going to look
anti-country, anti-patriotic. 300 of our fellow citizens came very close, and god knows how many on the ground christmas day, to the final approach to detroit. that's what's settling in here. thank goodness this one guy was incompetent. >> the president is making a directive that every 30 days he's going to be briefed, in quite great detail by john brennan about what's happening. >> yeah. >> that's 30 days. that's 29 -- or 28 days, depending on the month, every month, he said he would be briefed, between these briefings. it's so hard to keep so many things on the front burner. will the president be able to relegate this to these people in the white house and beyond and be effective doing so? >> kind of like running a country -- or a company, rather, and i've run neither. i guess if you have good department heads and you trust them, and you say, this is now your bailiwick, you assume when you press the button that starts
all this in motion today, everybody's off work and everybody's doing their job. you have to assume that. >> are any of these guys ever off work? >> boy, i don't think so. in the national security, national intelligence business, you just had a veteran sitting here with you. i don't think there's ever a day off or a moment you're not thinking about it. >> okay. nbc news "nightly news" anchor brian williams. thank you very much, brian. >> alex, i want to bring back in jack rice, former kraflt agent, as far as reaction to the president's remarks. we've talked a lot about what the president said. what struck you as far as things that he did not talk about? >> well, he made one reference to aqap, al qaeda in the arabian peninsula. i think he's trying to point how hard it is to shift as fast as al qaeda does. it highlights how difficult it truly is. because in the end, all al qaeda really has to do is look for a country that's failing. so if you have a place where there is no centralized authority, no ability to come in and reach in and grab them, just
like afghanistan, by the way, just like somalia, by the way, i can take you into southern sudan, all parts of the world they can operate with impunity, the americans have to be there as quickly and watch it, because if something happens out of those countries, they have to be prepared for that, too. and that was the failure in yemen. >> one of the things that i think critics of president obama are going to jump on, and it may have struck some of them as when the president said, as al qaeda changes, that they come up with new ways to evade these systems. the problem is, that there are so many similarities between what abdulmutallab was trying to do, and what richard reid was, it seems like that the only difference has been where he tried to place the explosives. >> i think that's why the president spent half of the speech talking about the analysis and intelligence and the second half talking about security. that's why they would need these body scanning systems. that has got to be another line of defense they have to beef up as well. the intelligence can only be so good. if they're going to train and
use someone not on the intel lists or terror lists. >> that becomes almost like a water cooler conversation now. people around the country are having those same questions. how did it happen in almost the exact same way seven or eight years ago and we're still in the same place? the president had to respond. >> the president called him a known terrorist. so this was not someone who was not known. he called him a known terrorist. >> except that's the standard. there were 500,000 people who were on that watch list. now the president can say, this guy should not have been on the watch list, he should have been on the no-fly list. again, who's going to be making those judgments and how is that going to be worked out? >> all we know now is one person is going to be in that position to say we're going to make this call here. they're going to have to be able to make these standards and everybody's going to have to be working on the same page. >> david, michael, we spoke there are thousands out there, which you believe the intelligence community is perfectly capable of keeping track of. >> i do. >> i eavesdropped on your conversation with markh